Energy at a Glance: Coal Power

Published October 27, 2023

Quick Bullets:

  • Coal generates the most electricity in the world of any single energy source.
  • Coal is the most affordable fuel for electricity generation in the United States.
  • The largest consumer, by far, of coal is China. 
  • Worldwide, there are more than one trillion tons of known coal reserves. 
  • In the United States, there is an estimated recoverable reserve of 251 billion short tons of coal, which at 2021 U.S. production rates, would last approximately 435 years.

Coal is formed when plant debris from mostly swampy areas is gradually buried, compacted over millions of years, and made into rock by heat and pressure deep underground. 

In a coal power plant, coal is burned and used to make steam, which turns a turbine and produces electricity.

Coal generated 35 percent of the world’s electricity in 2022, representing the largest single source of world electricity generation. The largest consumer of coal in the world, by far, is China, followed by India, and the United States. While coal consumption has declined over time in North America and Europe, global coal consumption and production continues to increase largely because of China, India, and Indonesia.